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‘We will be ready’ vows France, amid fears of UK border chaos

Transport bosses have raised fears of long queues in British ports when the EU's new EES system comes into effect next year, but French border officials insist they will be ready to implement the new extra checks.

'We will be ready' vows France, amid fears of UK border chaos
French police officers check passports at the border. Photo by Iroz Gaizka / AFP

The EU’s new EES system comes into effect in 2023 and many people – including the boss of the Port of Dover and the former UK ambassador to France – have raised concerns that the extra checks will lead to travel chaos on the UK-France border, and see a repeat of the long queues experienced last summer.

Port of Dover CEO Doug Bannister told The Local that he feared “tailbacks out of the port and throughout Kent” because the new system could take up to 10 minutes to process a car with four passengers, as opposed to 90 seconds currently.

EXPLAINED What the EES system means for travel to France in 2023

But French border control have insisted that they will be ready, replying to questions from the European Commission with “Oui, La France sera prête” (yes, France will be ready).

French officials said they had already undertaken extension preparation and would begin test runs of the new system in French border posts at the end of this year.

document shared recently by the secretariat of the EU Council (the EU institution representing member states) and published by Statewatch, a non-profit organisation that monitors civil liberties, shows how countries are preparing. 

“France has prepared very actively and will be on schedule for an EES implementation in compliance with the EU regulation,” French authorities say.

“The French authorities have carried out numerous studies and analyses, in cooperation with infrastructure managers, to map passenger flows at each border crossing post… and evaluate the EES impact on waiting times,” the document says. 

However, despite the preparation, the French admit that long waits at the border remain a worry, adding: “the prospect of the impact of EES on waiting times at the borders worries infrastructure managers. The fact remains that fluidity remains a concern, and that exchanges are continuing with each border post manager to make progress on this point.”

The EES system is due to come into effect in May 2023 and will be applied at all EU external borders – find full details on how it works HERE.

However there has been particular concern about the France-UK border due to three things; the high volume of traffic (in total over 60 million passengers cross the border each year); the fact that many travel by car on ferries and the Eurotunnel (while the EES system seems more designed with foot passengers in mind); and the Le Touquet agreement which means that French border control agents work in the British ports of Dover and Folkestone and at London St Pancras station.

EES is essentially a more thorough passport checking process with passengers required to provide biometric information including fingerprints and facial scans – border checks will therefore take longer per passenger, and this could have a big effect at busy crossing points like Dover.

The UK’s former ambassador to France, Lord Ricketts, told The Local: “I think the EES, in particular, will be massively disruptive at the Channel ports.”

The EU consultation documents also revealed more details of how EES will work on a practical level for car passengers – those travelling by ferry or Eurotunnel to France – with border agents set to use computer tablets to gather biometric information like fingerprints so that passengers don’t have to get out of their cars.

READ ALSO France to use iPads to check biometric data of passengers from UK

Doug Bannister added that Dover agents were “awaiting an invitation” to France to see how the new systems will work. 

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STRIKES

What to expect from the February 7th strike in France

February 7th marks the third day of mass strike action in the ongoing battle between the French government and unions over pension reform. From planes and trains to school, ski lifts and power cuts - here's what to expect on Tuesday.

What to expect from the February 7th strike in France

The next ‘mass mobilisation’ in the ongoing battle against pension reform is scheduled for Tuesday, February 7th, and will be followed by another one on Saturday, February 11th.

5 minutes to understand French pension reform

Tuesday’s mobilisation is supported by all eight French trades union federations, which means that support is likely to be high and disruption severe on certain services.

It will come as French lawmakers debate the bill in the Assemblé Nationale.

Workers in essential services such as transport must declare their intention to strike 48 hours in advance, allowing transport operators to produce strike timetables, which are usually released 24 hours in advance.

We will update this story as new information is released.

READ MORE: ANALYSIS: Who is winning the battle over French pension reform?

Trains

The four main unions (CGT Cheminots, Sud Rail, CFDT Cheminots, and UNSA Ferroviaire) representing workers with France’s national rail service, SNCF, have all called for strike action on Tuesday, February 7th.

During the day of action on January 31st, 36.5 percent of railway workers went on strike, compared to 46 percent on January 19th.

In addition to Tuesday’s strike action, two of the above unions, CGT and Sud Rail, have also called on workers to strike on February 8th. However, as of February 2nd, the other two primary unions had not made any calls to take part in Wednesday’s action.

Intercity and TER trains operated by the SNCF will likely see services disrupted on Tuesday with many cancellations. International trains including the Eurostar could also be affected.

City public transport

In the Paris region, the main unions representing RATP (Paris region public transport services) issued a joint statement on February 1st saying they would join calls for mobilisation on February 7th.

Traffic was severely disrupted on the most recent day of strike action, January 31st, on certain RER lines, with some lines like the RER C running an average of 1 train out of 10. As for the Paris Metro system, several lines only ran during peak hours and many stations across the city were closed. Many buses continued running, though with delays to usual operating times.

Other cities including Marseille and Lyon will likely see a repeat of severely disrupted bus, tram and Metro services.

In Lyon, on January 31st, public transport services were strongly impacted by strike action, and one metro line did not run at all throughout the day. 

Air travel

While it is not yet clear what level of disruption to expect in air travel, the leading civil aviation union, USACcgt, has called on “all DGAC (French civil aviation authority) and ENAC (National school of civil aviation) staff to go on strike en masse and take part in demonstrations” on February 7th, according to reporting by Le Parisien.

During the two previous mobilisations, approximately 20 percent of flights operating out of Paris-Orly airport were cancelled, but other airports were not affected. 

Ports

Port and dock workers walked on January 31st. It is not yet clear if they will join actions on February 7th, but typically strikes in this sector impact commercial ports rather than ferry ports. 

Schools

Tuesday’s strike will take place during the first round of winter holidays – so students in the Zone A (Besançon, Bordeaux, Clermont-Ferrand, Dijon, Grenoble, Limoges, Lyon, Poitiers) will already be off school.

You can find out more information about France’s school zones here.

Nevertheless – one of the major unions representing teachers, Snuipp-FSU said in a statement that they hope to see an “amplification” of previous walkouts, as they called on teachers to walk out on February 7th.

Primary school teachers (maternelle and elementary schools) are required to inform students and families at least 48 hours in advance of their intent to strike.

On January 31st, the Ministry of Education reported that about 25.9 percent of teachers walked out, in comparison to the 38.5 percent who walked out on the 19th. Numbers offered by the Snuipp-FSU union were higher – they said that about 50 percent of elementary school teachers walked out, and that 55 percent of secondary school teachers did so as well.

In addition to industrial action by teachers, several student unions, like the “National Student Movement” (MNL), representing high school students have made an effort to mobilise French youth across the nation, with some blocking the entrance to their high schools on strike days. According to the Journal des Femmes, the MNL has called on high schoolers across the country to walk out again on the 7th.

Ski lifts

BFMTV reported on January 31st that a walkout was scheduled for seasonal workers for approximately one hour and thirty minutes on Tuesday, February 7th. This means that in some resorts, ski lifts and stores could be closed. 

READ MORE: What to expect from strike action in France during the February school holidays

The two unions that represent more than 90 percent of workers in ski resorts have also called an ‘unlimited’ strike which began on January 31st. This means further actions could come later in the month as well.

Petrol stations

French refinery workers have threatened to strike for a 72-hour period beginning on February 6th. Union representative, Eric Sellini, told AFP that these actions could result in a “lower throughput” for petrol and a “stoppage of shipments.”

This could mean that there may be shortages of petrol and diesel at some filling stations if the blockades are successful in stopping supplies leaving the refineries.

The mobilisation on January 31st saw a significant number of refinery workers walk out – between 75 to 100 percent at some refinery and oil depots, according to the union CGT.

Power cuts 

Workers in the energy sector (electricity and gas), primarily represented by the union FNME-CGT, have announced plans to strike from February 6th through 8th. 

The day of action on January 31st had 40.3 percent of employees at EDF (France’s national energy provider) walk out, in comparison to 44.5 percent on January 19th.

Some workers in this sector have taken what they call “Robin Hood” actions to “distribute free electricity” to hospitals, schools and low-income housing areas.

On January 31st, striking workers brought about significant load reductions in some power plants across the country – approximately 3,000 MW according to La Depeche. However, these reductions in power reportedly did not lead to any power cuts on the 31st.

Demos

Demonstrations are expected in cities and towns across the country.

January 31st, the most recent day of large scale mobilisation, saw over 1.27 million people take to the streets according to the interior ministry. In Paris, the number of protesters was estimated at 87,000, higher than the 80,000 clocked last time, the ministry told AFP.

In Lyon, the route for the demonstration has already been decided, according to Lyon Capitale. It will begin at 12pm in front of the Manufacture des Tabacs. The procession will move toward the Place Bellecour.

Unions are hoping for a similar turnout on February 7th.

Other strike dates

The above information relates to February 7th only. Unions have also called for more walkouts on February 11th. 

Additionally, the strike by oil refinery workers is expected to run for 72 hours, meaning it will continue into Wednesday, February 8th. There could be more action in later days by oil refinery workers, as they have called for an ‘unlimited strike’.

Other unions have also declared ‘unlimited’ strikes, so there could be disruptions on these services on other days – these include ski lift operators and truck drivers.

It is highly likely that further one-day or multi-day strikes will be announced for February and March, as the pension reform bill comes before parliament, you can keep up to date with out strike calendar HERE.

We will update this article as more information becomes available, and you can also keep up with the latest in our strike section HERE.

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